Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The magic's gone in 'Burt Wonderstone'

About the movie
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone
MPAA rating:
for sexual content, dangerous stunts, a drug-related incident and language
Running time:
Release date:
Luke Vanek; Michael Bully Herbig; Mason Cook; James Gandolfini; Olivia Wilde; Jay Mohr; Steve Buscemi; Steve Carell; Alan Arkin; Jim Carrey
Directed by:
Don Scardino

The only incredible thing about The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is the way it makes Steve Carell so thoroughly and irreparably unlikable. In a film about magic tricks, this is the most difficult feat of all.

Even when Carell is playing characters who are nerdy (The 40-Year-Old Virgin) or needy (Crazy, Stupid, Love) or clueless (TV's The Office) or just plain odd (Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy), there's usually an inherent decency that shines through and makes him seem relatable, vulnerable, human.

None of those qualities exists within Burt Wonderstone, a selfish and flashy Las Vegas magician who once ruled the Strip alongside his longtime friend and partner, Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi), but now finds his act has grown outdated and unpopular. Even within the confines of a comedy sketch, where he probably belongs, Burt would seem one-dimensional and underdeveloped with his hacky jokes and tacky clothes. Stretched out to feature length, the shtick becomes nearly unbearable - until of course, the movie doles out its obligatory comeuppance, followed by redemption, and goes all soft and nice. By then, it's too little, too late.

Burt Wonderstone has some scattered laughs, many of them courtesy of Jim Carrey as a gonzo, up-and-coming street performer with a taste for pain, clearly modeled after the Criss Angel style of stunt artistry.

In theory, we're supposed to feel for Burt because we see him being bullied in a flashback at the film's start. The nerdy, neglected child of a hard-working single mom, Burt turned to magic for self-esteem and found friendship with the like-minded and equally geeky Anton. Their mentor was the old-school Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin), whose moves they watched on VHS.

Thirty years later, Burt and Anton are longtime headliners at Bally's, going through the same bit night after night with little inspiration. For unexplained reasons, they hate each other - probably because Burt has become a dismissive, abusive jerk.

Burt and Anton find not just their friendship, but their careers in jeopardy as Carrey's daring Steve Gray steals the fans and attention with more and more outlandish acts: ridiculous stuff like sleeping overnight on hot coals and holding his urine for several days straight. With his long hair; shirtless, sinewy frame; and charismatic demeanor, Carrey functions like a manic, subversive Christ figure.

But it's hard to care about how far the duo will fall or whether they can make a comeback - which is never in question - because there's nothing for us to hold onto as an audience.

And after it's over, poof! You'll forget you ever watched it in the first place.

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